Equal Access to the Information Society in Myanmar

ISIF Asia 2016 Grant recipient, Myanmar Book Aid and Preservation Foundation (MBAPF) implemented a project to provide equal access to the information society in Myanmar.

The project team identified that the general population at Myanmar will benefit from increased access to digital, information literacy, and critical thinking skills. Therefore, efforts were undertaken by MBAPF to equip Myanmar’s citizenry, especially women, with the knowledge, skills, confidence, and other abilities to shape a democratic, trustworthy, and vibrant local information society.

Their work with the ISIF Asia grant during 2017, builds on the experience gained with their work with IREX on the Tech Age Girls program, which covered other economies besides Myanmar.

Since then, MBAFP has been developing the skills of young female leaders by providing them with specialized information technology training, leadership and job skills, and opportunities to engage in critical public discussion.

During the course of the ISIF Asia funded project, MBAFP worked with 20 libraries established across the country and 588 participants attended training sessions, running two programs: the Mobile Information Literacy (MIL) and Tech Aged Girls (TAG).

MIL shared the information literacy with trainees to learn how to find and evaluate the quality and credibility of online information, understand how to create and share online information effectively, and participate safely and securely.

TAG worked with a selected group of Myanmar young women without other access to technology training in IT and leadership skills, improved their job skills and helped them become role models for youth in their communities.

The technical report elaborates all the project implementation and outcomes https://application.isif.asia/theme/default/files/ISIFAsia_2016_SmallGrants_TechReport_MBAPF-TAG-MIL_Myanmar_vFinal.pdf

ISIF Asia really appreciates to their wonderful work, a remarkable example of what can be achieved where community impact is at the heart of what you do.

Rafi can now read on his own

Saifuddin Rafi reading at home using the digital talking books
Saifuddin Rafi reading at home using the digital talking books

Saifuddin Rafi, one of the four million visually impaired people in Bangladesh, is studying in class XI at Patiya Government College in Chittagong. His study started in a specialized school (Government Muradpur School for the Blind) in Chittagong. But, after completing primary level, he got admitted into ‘Union Krishi School and College’ in Patiya nearby his home town. During his secondary education level, in this mainstream school, he did not get textbooks in Braille or accessible audio format. He had to traverse jumpy situations due to absence of accessible study materials.

These difficulties required support from his sister, also a student with her own burden, who assisted him by recording all the books and class notes. The sufferings of his parents were also countless. A child with visual impairment needs extra privileges for continuing education; but the access to study materials required and their affordability is perplexing. Therefore, parents wishing their children to continue their studies face physical, mental and financial stresses.

For Rafi, difficulties to get accessible study materials needed for visually impaired students was a major challenge, and it troubled him and his family till class VIII. While studying in class IX, he received textbooks in audio format. Later he came to know that these were called DAISY-standard digital talking books.

The digital talking books are accessible materials which provide the text in an audio version for all including students with print and learning disabilities. Digital talking books are for everyone who needs accessible information; readers can play the audio and simultaneously display and highlight the corresponding text. It eases the education for the number of visually impaired students in Bangladesh like Rafi.

A team of persons with disabilities developed DAISY standard digital multimedia books, e-books and digital braille books for the primary and secondary levels using open source technology which are freely available for the end user. The project received technical support from DAISY Consortium, Accessible Books Consortium and WIPO, while receiving implementation support from Young Power in Social (YPSA) and overall support from the Service Innovation Fund of the Access to Information (a2i) programme under the Prime Minister’s Office in Bangladesh. The project has converted all primary and secondary education textbooks (grades I through X) into cost effective DAISY digital multimedia format; made it easier to produce braille, text, audio book or e-book as suitable.

These accessible and affordable reading materials brought a momentous shift in Rafi’s learning curve. Through receiving Grade Point Average (GPA) 5, the highest grade obtainable for secondary and higher secondary education system in Bangladesh, in his Secondary School Certificate (SSC) examination, Rafi has created an example for other visually impaired students who are struggling for their study fighting against their disabilities.

This project has won multiple awards for developing these multimedia talking books, for the expansion of the accessibility of digital publications with innovative models and practices. The most remarkable awards include the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Prize, 2017; the Zero Projects Award on Inclusive Education (2016); the Accessible Books Consortium Award for Accessible Publishing Initiative at the International Excellence Award 2015 held in London Book Fair; etc.

 

 

 

 

Among them the Information Society Innovation Fund (ISIF Asia) Award, 2014 was the first prestigious international recognition for the digital talking book project and greatly inspired the team behind the project. These funds and awards actually made the ground more secure for further efforts and development in creating accessibility for all in
education.

Surely, these appreciations are significant as both stimulus and outcome of the project. Yet, the main purpose of the project was to enable the students and people with various disabilities. So, the outcome should be measured by the aid, reduction of hassle and indicators of success of the beneficiaries. More than 100,000 students with visual disability, print disability and learning disability can now read and listen to their textbooks that significantly improve their learning now.

The Access to Information (a2i) programme is continuously working on accessible education for the visually impaired. Low-cost digital braille display and low-cost DAISY multimedia book players are being developed locally to read these DAISY digital talking books. Bangladesh wants to make people with disabilities resilient rather than ‘assumed liability’ of the society. Ensuring inclusion of all including people with disabilities, especially in education, will aid human-centric and sustainable development of Bangladesh.

The education and life as a whole for Rafi and his family, representative of thousands of beneficiary households, has become much easier these days. Rafi can use either smartphone or computer to access his reading materials.

TINDAK MALAYSIA: Towards A Fairer Electoral System

Tindak Malaysia is the winner of the ISIF Asia 2016 Technical Innovation Award and the Community Choice Award 2016.

TINDAK MALAYSIA: Towards A Fairer Electoral System –
1 Person, 1 Vote, 1 Value

A democracy is reflected in the sovereignty of the people. They are supposed to have the power to choose their leaders under Free and Fair Elections. Unfortunately, those in power will try to manipulate the electoral system to entrench their grip on power. Attempts to manipulate the system could be…

  • in tweaking the rules of elections in their favour,
  • in the control of the mainstream media,
  • through threats,
  • through bribery,
  • through the pollsters to manipulate public perception,
  • during the vote count,
  • by making election campaigns so expensive that only the rich or powerful could afford to run or win.
  • through boundary delineation either by gerrymandering, or through unequal seat size.

The Nov 2016 US Presidential Election threw up all of the above in sharp contrast. There were two front runners, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Both candidates were disliked by more than half the electorate,

Both candidates generated such strong aversion that a dominant campaign theme was to vote for the lesser evil. The people were caught in the politics-of-no-choice.
Eventually, the winning candidate won, with slightly less votes (0.3%), than the losing candidate, each winning only 27% of the electorate. Yet the delegates won by the winner was 306 (57%) while the loser got 232 (43%), a huge difference!

The winning candidate won with barely a quarter of the total voting population. 43% of the voters did not vote. In other words, only 27% of the electorate decided on the President.

Consider Malaysia. We are located in South-east Asia. We have a population of 31 million with about 13.5 million registered voters. We practise a First-Past-The-Post System of elections, meaning the winner takes all, just like in the US.

In the 2013 General Elections, the Ruling Party obtained 47.4% of the votes and 60% of the seats. Meanwhile the opposition, with 52% of the votes, won only 40% of the seats – more votes, but much fewer seats.

We had all the problems listed above except that no opinion polls were allowed on polling day. But the most egregious problem of all was boundary delimitation, which is the subject of our project.

In 2013, the Ruling Party with 47.4% of the popular vote, secured 60% of the seats. To hang on to power, they resorted to abuse and to change of the laws to suppress the Opposition and the people. Our concern was that continuing oppression of the people in this manner could lead to violent protests. It was our hope to achieve peaceful change in a democratic manner through the Constitution.

From a Problem Tree Analysis, it was found that the problem was cyclic in nature. The root cause was a Fascist Government maintaining power through Fraudulent Elections. See red box opposite.
Problem Tree Analysis

 

problem-tree-analysis-of-the-rat-race_a

If current conditions prevail without any changes, they can still win power with just 39% of the votes.
50-Year General Elections Voting Trend

historical-ge-records-up-to-ge13_comments

What happened?

Malapportionment! The seats won by the Ruling Party in the chart below are the blue lines with small number of voters in the rural seats. The red lines with huge numbers are in the urban areas won by the Opposition. It was found that they could have won 50% of the seats with merely 20.22% of the votes.
Malapportionment in General Elections – GE213

 

ge13-voter-size-graph_2

The above computation was based on popular vote. If based on total voting population, BN needed only 17.4% to secure a simple majority.

What is the solution we propose?

The solution was obvious. Equalize the seats.
But for the past 50 years, no one seemed to object to the unfair maps.

Why? The objectors never managed to submit a substantive objection because:

  • Biased EC stacked with Ruling Party cronies, who actively worked to prevent any objections being made,
  • Constitution rules of delimitation drafted to make objections difficult, such that the EC had a lot of leeway to interpret it anyway it wished.
  • Very high barriers to objection,
  • Insufficient information offered during a Redelineation exercise. Given the 1-month deadline, it was impossible for an ordinary voter to prepare a proper objection.

How are Constituencies Drawn – Districting?

map-1-selangor-pd2013

We start with a Polling District (PD). The PD is the smallest unit of area in a Constituency. It is defined by a boundary, a name and/ID Code, and includes elector population. Map 1 is an example of PD. To avoid clutter, the elector numbers are carried in separate layer which can be overlaid on top.

Districting is conducted by assembling these PD into Constituencies. In theory, the Constituencies are supposed to have roughly the same number of electors, unless variation is permitted in the Constitution.

What happens when the Election Commission presents a map without any PD as shown in Map 2 below.
MAP 2 – EC’S SELANGOR REDELINEATION PROPOSAL 2016

map-2-selangor-redelineation-proposal-2016-syor1

This was gazetted by the EC on 15th Sept 2016 for public objections. No Polling Districts are identified. In reality, the EC had all the information in digital format under an Electoral Geographical Information System (EGIS) but they kept it from the public.

An elector faced with such a map, is stuck. He would not know where to begin. Neither did he have the technical knowledge to carry out the redistricting even if he wanted to, all within the time limit of 1 month.

This has been the case for the past 50 years. No one could object effectively.

So we had a situation where electors wanted to object but were unable to do so because of insufficient information and lack of expertise.

Studying the problem, we decided that the solution was to bridge the Digital Divide through Technical Innovation as well as to bring the matter out of the jurisdiction of the EC.

Technical:

  1. Digitize all the PD in Malaysia, about 8000 of them. This took us 1 year.
  2. Learn how to redistrict using digital systems. We used QGIS, an open source GIS system,
  3. Develop a plug-in to semi-automate and speed up the redistricting process.

Legal:

  1. Bring in legal expertise. Collaborate with lawyers to bring the matter out of the control of the EC and into the jurisdiction of the courts in order to defend the Constitution.

We started this initiative in July 2011 and by Dec 2015, we had digitised all the PD and redistricted the whole country twice, sharpening our expertise and correcting errors in the process. We got the Bar Council (Lawyers Association) to team up with us to guide the public on how to object when the Redelineation exercise by the EC is launched.

Redelineation, 1st Gazette:

On 15th Sept 2016, the EC published the First Gazette of the Redelineation Proposal. For the State of Selangor with 22 Parliamentary seats, they published one map only – MAP 2. We analysed their proposal and found glaring disparities in the seat sizes with elector population ranging from 39% to 200% of the State Electoral Quota (EQ) – MAP 3

MAP 3 – SELANGOR MALAPPORTIONMENT OF PROPOSED PARLIAMENT SEATS 2016

6d-selangor-malapportionment

At a more detailed level, it looks like MAP 4 below. We can see the densely populated central belt (brown columns) sticking out in sharp contrast to the under-populated outlying regions around the perimeter – ochre areas). Clearly the EC has not addressed the inequalities in the voting strength among the various regions.

MAP 4 – SELANGOR VOTER DENSITY

map-4-selangor-voter-density-danesh20161107

Trial Run: We conducted a trial run on the EC maps for a local council in Selangor – MPSJ. See MAP 4. It was found that we could maintain local ties with 6 State and 2 Parliamentary Constituencies, with the elector population kept within +/-20% of the mean. This was much better than the EC’s range of -60% to +100%.

MAP 5 – LOCAL COUNCIL MPSJ

map-5-mpsj-redistricting_1

We have submitted objections for the First Gazette and await the call for a public hearing by the EC. Our lawyers are monitoring the EC to ensure they comply with the Constitution and preparing lawsuits in case they don’t.

While conducting our research on how to object, we uncovered yet another area of abuse. The boundaries of the polling districts and electors within, had been shifted to other constituencies unannounced. This was a surreptitious form of redelineation outside the ambit of the constitution and a gross abuse of authority. As part of our next project, we intend to focus on this, to prevent such gerrymandering.

In conclusion, we feel like we are peeling an onion. As we unfold one layer, a new layer of fraud is exposed. It was a never-ending process. But we are determined to keep on digging until we reach the core and achieve our goal of Free and Fair Elections.

Which Are Better: Computers or Mobile Tablets for Education in Rural India?

india-tablet

Rural India has a challenging context with respect to quality education. In India, rural areas lack basic infrastructure facilities, and universalization of schooling in India is one of the most urgent development issues in the world today. The major challenges of quality education in rural areas include

  • Absence of students in schools
  • Absence of teachers in schools
  • Insufficient good teachers
  • Absence of schools.

The listed issues cannot be solved easily as there are 600,000 villages in India. Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have raised some hopes to tackle these challenges to some extent.

ICTs offer greater access to quality learning resources. The Internet is a forerunner in the technology front with respect to get access to educational resources. Rural areas are still not able to exploit the benefits of the Internet due to the absence of technological infrastructure.

In rural areas, two major ICTs seem to have the greatest potential to deliver quality education, namely, computers and mobile tablets. These technologies can be easily taken to rural areas.

The i-Saksham Project

Understanding the potential of ICTs, a group of entrepreneurs in ‘Jamui’ and ‘Munger’ districts of Bihar, India have implemented i-Saksham project in the remote rural areas. The project aims to give access to quality education using mobile tablets. Mobile tablets contain relevant educational content with respect to primary education.

A local educated youth is selected and trained to use a mobile tablet to deliver primary education to village children. In return, tutors charge fees from the child’s parent. The tutors, in turn, give a fixed amount to the project implementers.

Tablets vs. Computers

The main reasons for using mobile tablets, in comparison to computers, as a platform for the initiative are:

  1. Computers need more maintenance compared to mobile tablets. Computers can’t be moved from one place to the other comfortably. However, tablets are highly portable. If there is a hardware issue, tablets can be taken easily to the project main center. It will be difficult in the case of computers.
  2. In rural areas, there is a lack of electricity and therefore, it will be difficult to run computers. However, mobile tablets once charged can be used any time in the day/night
  3. Computer with an accessory like UPS, increases the cost of investment. This has an effect on the overall sustainability of the project. As the number of tutors rise, investments will also rise if computers are used.
  4. Mobile tablets used in the project are not very expensive. They cost around Rs. 4000-5000 (1$= Rs. 65.00 as on 22/10/2015) with basic features.
  5. With a single computer, all students in a class can’t active part in learning. However, with mobile tablets, students are able to work in groups, play educational games. With increased number of tablets, students’ interaction with the technology and content will be higher.

Computers as a delivery medium has many advantages over the mobile tablet. For example, good video and audio quality, larger memory to store content and better performance. Computers also give opportunity for tutors to enhance their computer skills.

However, in the context of rural areas, mobile tablets because of their portability, lesser cost and maintenance, provides sustainable technological solution to the issue of quality education in rural areas. The mobile tablets complement books during a teaching session. Availability of educational apps enhances the overall ability of the tablet as a medium for education.

Nevertheless, content is a major challenge for the project officials. There is a need for localized content so that students learn faster and better.

Gaurav Mishra is an Assistant Professor at Development Management Institute (DMI) – Patna

Can eVidyaloka Fix the Learning Crisis in Rural India?

india-schools

In 1954, the United Nations designated November 20 as the Universal Children’s Day. Seventy years have passed, but promoting the welfare of the youth has never been more necessary. Too many youngsters worldwide continue to suffer from poverty, abuse, and premature mortality.

When it comes to education, the situation has improved, but there is still a long way to go. 121 million children remain unschooled; and 69 million adolescents have to drop out. Even for those who can enroll, the perspectives are bleak, as they often do not receive the quality education they deserve.

India’s learning crisis

With a 96 percent enrollment rate, India has almost achieved universal primary education. But the country is now dealing with an acute learning crisis that may threaten its development in the long run. A majority of students comes out of school without basic literacy and numeracy skills. Today, 60 percent of 10-year old pupils cannot read a text, and 74 percent are unable to solve a division problem.

The reasons for this crisis are many, but they start with the lack of trained teachers. India faces a shortage of 1.2 million schoolmasters and a high absenteeism rate. Combining this with the curriculum’s low standards, it is easy to understand why the learning outcome is so poor.

Many urban families respond to the situation by sending their children to private schools. But in the countryside where people earn less, most youngsters have no choice but go to public institutions. With their teachers being absent one day in five, the pupils often lose the motivation to study, and a majority drops out by the age of 14.

Connecting rural students with urban teachers

In 2010, in Bangalore, two friends were troubled by their country’s educational crisis, but they had a dream. They were dreaming of solving it using ICTs. Some would have said such dream was unreasonable. But Satish and Venkat had what it takes to make a difference. They were passionate; they were skillful; they were pragmatic.

Looking at the larger picture, they had realized that the level of education has increased in India over the past twenty years. There are now 40 million university graduates, and some are willing to share their knowledge with the less fortunate. As long as they do not have to leave their day job.

While thinking about this issue, it became obvious for Satish and Venkat that the solution would come from the Internet. At the time, they found some inspiration in the Khan Academy, whose tutorial videos were more and more popular. But since they were focusing on under-educated children, they had to find a way to make the courses live.

Back in 2010, the Internet was expanding in India, and Satish and Venkat took a bold decision. They started a nonprofit called eVidyaloka, traveled to isolated villages, and equipped some classrooms with video-conference materials. This way, the students would just have to go next door to take the class; and their teacher could be anywhere around the world.

Transforming the learning experience

School failure should have been the fate of Rajesh. This 10 year old boy lives in a small village, in the state of Tamil Nadu, Southern India. Like most children there, he goes to a public school.

Rajesh enrolled in the eVidyaloka after-school program before it was too late. And participating in this program has transformed the student he was. Before, he was not so passionate about school; now, he reviews his lessons. Before, he was struggling with math; now, he can solve the divisions by himself. Before, his English was terrible; now, he can speak in an articulated manner.

The reasons for such progress? eVidyaloka teachers lecture in Tamil, Rajesh’s mother tongue. They also use videos and practical examples to explain the concepts. For the young boy, this has been enlightening, and he understands what he is being taught. And since the eVidyaloka program complements his school’s curriculum, it only took a few months for Rajesh to improve his grades!

Opening the door to higher education

Implementing an ICT-driven project in rural India has not been easy for Satish and Venkat. They had to deal with power cuts, slow Internet speed, and even monkeys dislodging the cables. But they received a strong support both from the local communities and the Indian volunteers. This has enabled them to open 13 eVidyaloka classrooms in some of the country’s most underdeveloped regions. And their 179 teachers have changed the lives of more than 1,200 children.

Just like young Rajesh, who can now consider going to high school!

Can E-learning Solve the Education Crisis in Pakistan?

pakistan

In Pakistan, school is compulsory for every child between 5 and 16. In reality, the law is not enforced, and the country will not meet the Millennium Development Goal of achieving universal primary education by 2015.

Pakistan’s Education Crisis

Over the past decade, education has been a low priority for the Pakistani governments; and economic poverty, natural disasters and religious extremism have further worsened the situation. With 5.5 million out-of-school children, Pakistan has the second worst performance in the world when it comes to enrollment (after Nigeria). Of course, disadvantaged girls are first to drop out: in 2013, 66 percent did not receive any education at all…

For children enrolled in government schools, the prospects for the future are almost as bleak. Public education is in a disastrous state, and student achievement is outrageously low. 36 percent of the 10-year-old pupils cannot read a sentence in English, which they are supposed to learn at 7; and, in the underdeveloped Balochistan province, only 45 percent of the primary school graduates can solve a two-digit subtraction.

The Whole System is in Danger of Collapse

Pakistan is confronting an acute education crisis, and the whole system is to blame. The curriculum does not meet international standards; and the lack of investment is blatant at both the federal and state levels. In 2013, total allocations for education amounted to just 1.9 percent of the country’s GDP. This was the lowest rate in South Asia, and only seven other countries put less money in their education system.

In practical terms, this means that the teachers are not paid enough, neither are they well-trained. It is not surprising, then, that Pakistan has to deal with a massive shortage of teaching staff. To make the public education system work, there should be at least 100,000 extra instructors…

smartmath

Britannica SmartMath

Bilal Shahid is a Director at Tech Implement, an innovative IT company founded in 2005 in Lahore. For this e-learning specialist, the country’s education crisis is a shame because it affects the least fortunate — those who cannot afford to go to private school.

In 2012, he decided to take action and approached the CARE Foundation, the largest education NGO in the country. Shahid intended to carry out an experiment to improve the children’s skills in mathematics. The Tech Implement team would take the Encyclopedia Britannica’s e-learning tool called SmartMath, map it to the Pakistani syllabus and use it to train the students.

Displaying the questions as a game with stars to reward every right answer, this tool is especially appealing to the youth. Furthermore, SmartMath is adaptive and driven by the students’ actual progress. When they are consistent at answering questions correctly, they move to the next level. But if they don’t reach the proficiency target, they spend more time on the topic. SmartMath can even suggest remediation.

Leaning Against the Wind

In 2012, Shahid’s idea to bring an e-learning tool to the classroom was bold, as many people in Pakistan were still wary of ICTs. But the CARE Foundation that manages 225 public schools throughout the country welcomed the initiative. In August 2012, they started a pilot in five Lahore schools; by April 2013, they had expanded the project to 23 other institutions.

However, the teachers were not thrilled. They did not take e-learning seriously and were concerned that SmartMath would replace them in the future. Tech Implement spent a lot of time explaining that the tool was actually designed to assist them in their teaching practice. It took a while, but eventually everyone agreed to play the game. And, once the schools’ computer labs were properly equipped, the project could begin.

Or so they thought…

“They Were Scared of Holding the Mouse”

The beneficiary students were aged 8 to 13, and they all came from low-income families. With no computer at home, they had no idea how to use it. Some were even scared of holding the mouse! Again, Shahid and his team put the project on hold, this time to train 2,500 children in the basics of computer literacy.

Soon, the students were able to take their hour-long SmartMath session. And it was only a matter of weeks before they showed significant improvements. By the end of the academic year, they scored 8.73 in math, whereas other students got an average of 4.25. Moreover, the majority passed their final exam!

After two years of experimentation, SmartMath has therefore proven to be a viable solution to Pakistan’s learning crisis. And today, Tech Implement wants to scale up the project and train 15,000 additional students by 2015!

What do you think? Could e-learning solutions really help enhance students’ performances in a country like Pakistan? Are they sustainable in the long run?

Should Indonesia be Teaching Technology in Schools?

indo-school-tech

Did you know that Indonesia launched a new curriculum last year that removed information technology, among other subjects, in favor of Bahasa Indonesia, nationalism and religious studies? Of course the move was controversial, as the information technology and communications (TIK) subject was recently created by the government, and technology skills are seen by many in and outside of Indonesia as key to the future of the country.

But in light of the many failures in incorporating ICT into education, the Indonesian government may have acted with foresight in canceling TIK as an independent subject and instead expecting it to be infused across the curriculum.

Students arguably will learn the tools of technology on their own, while completing their schoolwork for other subjects, or even just via mobile phones as Indonesian lead much of the world in social media use.

And the technology skills that were being taught in some schools, may not be all that useful in the age of mobile devices. The curriculum was designed in 2006, when students needed to lean how to turn on computers, and the use of Microsoft Office, or how to assemble and repair desktop hardware, was considered essential.

However, reducing the emphasis on technology, regardless of the focus of the instruction, is worrisome. Indonesia does need to make sure all its students are familiar with the tools of technology, not just the ones rich enough to own mobile phones or use computers outside of school.

3 Tangible Outcomes from Digital Bangladesh: An Inspiration for South Asia

digital-bangladesh

In 2008, the government of Bangladesh announced a ‘Vision 2021’ pledge is to improve the quality of life and quality of governance, and achieve mid-income country status by the year 2021, on the golden jubilee of the nation.

The vision was widely appreciated because of its intention to ensure inclusive innovation. The government of Bangladesh is in a process of developing a ‘Perspective Plan of Bangladesh 2010-2021’ to operationalize the vision throughout the country.

Digital Bangladesh

One aspect of Vision 2021 is Digital Bangladesh, a pledge to use modern technology to impact every aspect of public and private life by 2021. Digital Bangladesh is being implemented by the Access to Information (A2I) Programme housed in the Prime Minister’s office of the government of Bangladesh, and they have developed ‘the Strategic Priorities of Digital Bangladesh’ in January 2011, three years after the Vision 2021 declaration.

The strategic priorities of Digital Bangladesh are:

  1. Human resource development
  2. Connecting citizens
  3. Digital government for pro-poor service delivery
  4. ICT in business

Now considering where the Bangladesh government is starting from, and potential impeding factors like lack of skills, infrastructure, integration among interventions and political unrest in the country, the Digital Bangladesh goal of a discrimination, corruption, poverty and hunger free happy, prosperous and educated mid-income country driven by ICTs by 2021, is quite ambitious.

There is no quick solution to these issues, and doing anything on a national scale is very complex and depends on many factors, however, we are hopeful because Bangladesh has achieved most of the targets under MDG goals well before the deadline, and Digital Bangladesh has already achieved three major impacts:

New Technologies

To create enabling environment the government has formed several policies like

  1. National ICT policy 2009
  2. Right to Information Act 2009
  3. Information and Communication Technology (Amendment) Act, 2009
  4. Bangladesh Hi-tech Park Authority Act, 2010
  5. International Long Distance Telecommunications Services Policy (ILDTS)
  6. Telecommunications Act, 2010
  7. Bangladesh Telegraph and Telephone Board Act, 2009
  8. Broadband Policy, 2009
  9. Pornography Act, 2011
  10. Rural Connectivity Policy 2010
  11. Format of the Public Private Partnership Policy

The enabling policies made it possible for corporate sector to reach the bottom of the pyramid and as a result mobile subscription, Internet subscription, and use of ICTs in every step of life had a tremendous increase.

In addition, we’ve seen a welcomed increase in new technologies. Previously, WiMAX, VOIP, 3G and Community Radio were illegal in Bangladesh. As a result of Digital Bangladesh, WiMax technology was legalised in 2009. VOIP was legalised in early 2010, and the Government has issued licenses for community radio starting in December 2010.  The 3G technology providers have received licence to start operation from October 2013.

New Programs

To reach the last mile the government has established 4,501 Information Service Centres at each Union Parishad, the smallest rural administrative and local government units in Bangladesh, and e-Service Centres in each office of the 64 Deputy Commissioners, the District level administrative units in Bangladesh.

The e-Service centres provide access to agriculture, health, education, social safety net, legal aid, disaster management and enforcement of law related services. InfoKosh has-been introduced at the national level to make available livelihood content. As many as 220 organisations and about 50,000 information articles have been uploaded on this website by May, 2011.

Digital Bangladesh has resulted the e-services including:

In addition, actions are underway to prepare a National E-Governance Architecture (NEA) to implement ICT projects in public offices.

The government has introduced e-GP (Electronic Government Procurement) system in public procurement to introduce digital system. The digital land management system has been introduced in order to make land administration and management transparent and accountable.

The government is in a process of establishment of multimedia classroom in all educational institutions to sensitise the teachers for developing digital content. To date, 3,172 Computer Labs and 80 Smart Class Rooms have been set up in different educational institutions across the country. As many as 325 textbooks of Primary, Secondary, Madrasa and Technical Education Board have adopted e-Book versions, which can be accessed from www.ebook.gov.bd.

New Mind-set

As you can see, the hype around Digital Bangladesh has already caused several changes in Bangladesh. Most significantly, I would say, is the mind-set of government officials.

As an ICT4D professional, I used to experience difficulties explaining how technology could be used for social and economic development, but now almost everyone have an understanding about ICTs and their impact. Maybe the understanding is not 100% accurate, but the important thing is now the government and social sectors welcome ICTs.

We may have a long way to go, but the process of digital government has started in Bangladesh.